Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Kids treated as adult felons will act as such

Thursday's Observer editorial:

At a time when Democrats and Republicans agree on almost nothing, many agree on this:

Throwing thousands of kids into the adult justice system, mostly for misdemeanors, leads to one of two outcomes, both bad. They are either put right back on the street on probation or they get incarcerated with adults, scarring their psyche, marring their record and leading them down a road to nowhere.

Yet that’s what North Carolina does with 16- and 17-year-olds. We and New York are the only states that take kids barely old enough to drive and automatically funnel them into the adult system.

Forty-eight other states see a better way, and North Carolina should join them. The General Assembly should pass legislation this year that raises the age of juveniles from 16 to 18. Non-violent 16- and 17-year-old offenders should be dealt with in the juvenile justice system, with approaches that blend punishment and rehabilitation.

Bills to do that are sitting in committee. There are seven primary sponsors in the House and Senate – five Republicans and two Democrats. The bills stalled last year because of concerns about the cost of adding thousands of teens to the juvenile justice system. (Intense treatment, punishment and rehabilitation are more expensive than a revolving door.) But with bipartisan support, legislators should find a responsible way to make that transition.

Rep. Marilyn Avila, R-Wake, told us Wednesday that she and other legislators are laying the groundwork for that now. They would raise the age in 6-month increments, and they want to ensure that the community infrastructure exists to handle the influx of teens. These kids need “intensive interventions, both in their lives and in the lives of their families,” Avila said. That gets at the cause, rather than punishing the symptom. Legislators will consider what types of services currently exist and where the gaps are.

More than just segregating children from adults, which is laudable in itself, this would be a whole new approach to stopping juvenile crime in North Carolina. It recognizes the evidence that having an adult criminal record makes it less likely that teens will finish school, get a job or enter the military. Studies show that teens who go through the adult system are 33 percent more likely to commit another crime than teens who go through the juvenile system. A 16-year-old who has committed a misdemeanor is worth not giving up on just yet.

Biological research shows that the brains of teens that age are not fully developed. They do not control their impulses or fully appreciate the consequences of their actions. The juvenile justice system has significant potential to rehabilitate. The adult system has little.

North Carolina
’s current law has been in place since 1919. We have learned a lot since then. If North Carolina’s approach was better, some of those 48 states would have followed our lead. But the movement has been in the opposite direction.

Moving these kids to the juvenile system will cost money in the short term. But given a teen’s probable trajectory after being saddled with an adult record, it’s an investment likely to save in the long term.


MSW said...

So the 15 yr old girl who was found guilty of killing a defenseless 9 yr old by strangling her should only get probation and a slap on the wrist until she does it at 18 because she can't appreciate the consequences of her actions? Really?

UnknownSpell said...

I believe the opinion article said 'non-violent' which that would hardly qualify as.

Jim said...

"We have learned a lot since [1919]."

The problem is that so much of what we've learned isn't so.

sanitizer said...

We should take children away from dysfunctional homes, when they quit school, or young non violent offenders should be put in a boot camp for 1 or 2 years. Teach them discipline and a trade. If they do well allow them in the military with time in grade and at an elevated level.

J said...

This is proposterous.

"...they get incarcerated with adults, scarring their psyche, marring their record and leading them down a road to nowhere...Biological research shows that the brains of teens that age are not fully developed. They do not control their impulses or fully appreciate the consequences of their actions."

The teenage brain may not be fully developed, but it is developed to know right from wrong. Forcing a 16-year-old who has committed a crime to serve the punishment for that crime is not "giving up on them," it is teaching them that actions have consequences. They are better off learning that earlier, not later. To let such a kid get away with a crime does not send the message, "they're not giving up on me! I'll do better next time." It teaches them that they can do what they want and face no consequences.

sumday said...

Could state or reference the evidence and studies that suggest this? Anyone can say there is evidence and studies, but to give actual links and proof is a different story I guess. The problem I have with this is I read time after time were these teens have a long record of B&E, drugs, stealing, ect that are considered non-violent- as if to say if we went easier on them the first few times they would have continued on with their life of crime- yeah right. I suggest doing another study showing how locking up teens with adults affects the law abiding teens- IE does the knowledge of being treated like an adult deter other teens from committing crimes? One could also say treat kids like kids when they do adult crimes and they will continue to trivialize their crimes.

Viventis said...

The operative words are "Intense treatment, punishment and rehabilitation." Currently, only the middle word applies. If you don't think that a teen can turn his/her life around with the proper help, there is nothing I can say to you. But, every time a teen does make a positive life change, that is good for everyone.

Nathan Forrest said...

How about changing the headline to.."Kids that act with respect will be afforded the same in return"?

Devil Dog 1775 said...

Felons treated as kids will never learn to become adults!